CAPITAL REGION – Whether it’s offering prospective employees subsidized housing, college tuition reimbursement or simply a workplace that no longer has staid oil paintings on the walls, local employers have been using a variety of creative strategies to entice workers in a labor market that heavily favors job seekers.
In the Capital Region, the unemployment rate was 3.2% in July and the labor force was 9,000 below that of the workforce in July 2019, according to the New York State Department of Labor.
These numbers mean “businesses are having a hard time finding and attracting workers,” said Kevin Alexander, a state labor market analyst. “One of the main drivers behind that is a declining labor force, so it’s a smaller talent pool for businesses to tap into.”
As a result, employers are having to think differently about hiring, and they are having to work harder to attract employees. That includes paying higher wages, offering more schedule flexibility and putting more effort into recruitment, Alexander said.
Job seekers say paid time off, higher pay, the ability to work remotely both full- and part-time, and the flexibility to choose their own hours are the top incentives they’d like employers to offer, according to the Department of Labor’s 2022 Job Seeker Survey results, which collected feedback from 8,000 individuals across New York state.
LESS COMMON BENEFITS
Employers say they are doing what they can to meet those desires, while also mixing in less common benefits.
For instance, Turning Stone Resort and Casino recently spent more than $10 million to build an employee housing village in the hopes it would attract workers, according to Joel Barkin, Oneida Indian Nation’s vice president of communications.
The Villages at Stoney Creek features 50 apartment-style homes that are available to new hourly employees at a heavily subsidized rate. Employees pay $550 for a one-bedroom apartment, $650 for a two bedroom and $750 for a three bedroom, and the units feature laundry, parking, some utilities and roundtrip shuttle service to Turning Stone.
“It provides a level of flexibility that has not been afforded for hourly workers,” Barkin said. “We think this is really a thoughtful and innovative approach to setting ourselves that much further apart from other employers.”
Turning Stone employs about 4,500 workers and has added more than 400 jobs since January. But, the resort is looking to hire more workers, with needed positions ranging from cooks to table dealers to members of the grounds crew.
The casino has been aggressively marketing its open positions, including hosting an in-person hiring event in August, which was the first time the 30-year-old resort hosted an in-person recruiting event in the Albany area, and qualified applicants were given jobs on the spot. Barkin said more than a dozen employees were hired directly from the event, which had about 50 people sign up.
Alexander said employers are hiring workers during job fairs more often now than in the past.
“We’re seeing a lot of the job fairs are also becoming hiring events. So [employers] are looking to secure employees sooner,” the analyst said.
The Capital District Transportation Authority has ramped up recruitment efforts like never before, according to CDTA CEO Carm Basile.
“Five or 10 years ago, we didn’t really do a whole lot of advertising, marketing or outreach to hire people. People just came to us. No longer is that true,” Basile said. “We can’t sit idly and wait for people to come to us. We are aggressive in going to get them, whether it be social media, job fairs, or partnerships with all different labor organizations.”
In the state’s 2022 Business Workforce Survey results, which spoke with 3,700 unique businesses, employers said word of mouth and Indeed are the most successful recruitment tools.
Basile said CDTA has a shortfall of roughly 10% of its workforce. As part of that, CDTA has a budget for about 450 drivers and is currently looking to hire roughly 40 drivers. CDTA is also in need of maintenance technicians and support personnel, Basile said.
CDTA hosts its own in-person job fairs, during which prospective employees are given the chance to drive a bus – with some help. After roughly six weeks of training, someone who has never before driven a bus can earn a commercial driver’s license and be sitting behind the wheel of a 40-foot CDTA bus, earning a starting wage of $21.26 an hour. Drivers can earn the top rate of $28.35 within a year and a half, depending on performance, Basile said.
JOB WITH TUITION PAYMENT OPTIONS
Hannaford has also had to re-think its strategy for attracting and retaining workers, said Margo Peffer, the supermarket chain’s vice president of human resources
“I would say this labor climate is historic. I don’t think anybody in my role in any retail organization across the U.S. would disagree. The labor market we’re seeing right now is more dynamic and more unpredictable than we’ve ever seen at any other time in the past several decades,” said Peffer, who has been for Hannaford for 22 years. “Particularly over the last two to three years, our staffing shortages started to become more noticeable, more challenging.”
One way Hannaford is trying to meet the moment is by offering a college-tuition reimbursement program that provides up to $5,250 in tuition funds per year. While reimbursement levels vary based on average hours worked, associates working as little as 10 hours per week are now eligible for the benefit. Additionally, qualifying Hannaford associates can also get tuition discounts if they enroll at partner colleges or universities, including The College of Saint Rose in Albany.
A LOCAL CONNECTION
Other employers have been adapting to meet the needs of the current work climate. Following the onset of the pandemic, The Couch White law firm in downtown Albany has been struggling to recruit, said Brian Murphy, a partner with the firm. Largely, that’s because the business law firm, which employs roughly 40 attorneys and specializes in energy law, construction law, real estate development, corporate transactions, and trust and estate planning, has been missing out on applicants who have been seeking employment at firms across the country via remote positions.
As a result, Couch White is reinvesting in its physical office. That means modernizing the furniture, technology and decor to make its office a more attractive place to spend time — though there isn’t a ping-pong table yet, Murphy said. But, it also means selling prospective employees on the value of working for a local firm that knows and cares about its employees.
“We’re making the pitch that mentorship is enhanced with in-person communication,” Murphy said. “There is something to be said for being able to come into the office and having a relationship with someone who sees you every day, who knows you and knows your family story.”
So while Couch White pays top wages and has been providing employees with the opportunity to work from home in addition to the office, the firm is leaning into its strong office culture, Murphy said. In some ways, it’s an unconventional pitch at a time when so many employers have been selling the opposite message.
Alexander, the state labor analyst, expects employers to continue to use innovative approaches to find workers — whatever those approaches look like.
“Employers are going to continue to find creative ways to work with their recruits. They are going to be able to adapt their recruitment and adapt their businesses to meet workers’ demands,” Alexander said. “I think we’re going to continue to see some of the creativity we’ve been seeing.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.